White Hunter, Black Heart


Whiter Hunter Black Heart - front cover

(Above) The 1953 paperback edition.

White Hunter Black Heart 1953 back cover

The hard back edition is shown below.

[From after the dedication:]
"They are insane. Gutshot and dying, one of them kept me in a tree
for eleven hours with water only a little distance away.
It was an insane performance. It is the insanity
of the animal that makes him magnificent."
(A white hunter speaking of buffalo; overheard in Nairobi, May 1951.)

White Hunter BLack Heart Hardback

Excerpt from page one:

"When I think back now, I realize that the only thing John Wilson and I actually ever had in common was the fact that at one time or another each of us ran over someone with an automobile. The victim of his accident died; mine lived on to sue the insurance company for a good many years. The great difference between the end results of these two very similar happenings seems fairly symptomatic to me, for it somehow symbolizes the essential difference between Wilson and myself. Things that happened to me always simmered down and became mild little adventures, hardly worth remembering. Things that happened to Wilson exploded. Most people attributed this directly to his nature, but I prefer to think that chance had something to do with it. It is true that Wilson was always a violent man, given to violent actions. Some of my friends called him a spoiler, and ascribed his wild, troubled life directly to his personal mania for destruction and disaster, but these generalizations always seemed inaccurate to me, for although he certainly contributed to the trouble that always sprang up around him, I cannot believe that he caused it all. Violent, irresponsible personalities seem to attract similar personalities and very often it is hard to put your finger on who is cause and who is effect. That was certainly true of Wilson. I say was, not because he is dead, but because I think our long friendship is over. The end of love always gives you a momentary over-all look at life, and you can see the past in a cold, true light. That's why I can write all this about John.

A very talented, intelligent actor I know said that Wilson was the leading exponent of the "screw-you-all" type of personality. He also always added that in order to survive with that particular type of personality one had to be born rich or very, very talented. The latter was true of John. He had and still has a great amount of talent. He made a career, despite the basic attitude so aptly described by my friend, by continually violating all the unwritten rules that govern the motion picture business. He told his bosses what he thought of them (and he was always right), he publicly abused all the women he was involved with (which is dangerous, for Hollywood is a very moral, middle-class town), he supported doubtful political causes (on the basis of integrity and not because of a romantic, adolescent political conviction), he drank to excess (and he certainly became less charming when he did so), he made a great many wonderful pictures, very few of which made any money at the box office (which is the most dangerous thing a man can do in Hollywood), and he spent all his money (which is a dangerous thing to do anywhere). All of these violations of the tribal rules, for which I admired him, did him no harm. Instead they helped him. There have been a great many imitations of his style of living. Actors, writers, and even producers have occasionally tried what he did day in and day out and they have all ended badly: in jail or in hock or as recipients of the Motion Picture Relief Fund. Perhaps they lacked his talent, but I don't think that is it. I think they lacked the magic, almost divine ability he had to land on his feet."

Copyright 1953 Peter Viertel

This writing of this novel is recounted in Viertel's memoir Dangerous Friends.

Thomas Kuhnke - Literary Representation

Site by
Erik Weems